Havas London CEO Xavier Rees will have been speaking for plenty of bosses across advertising, media and marketing when he wrote in Campaign last week about the current challenges of recruiting talent.
As the impact of the pandemic peters out and advertising booms like never before, there’s a perfect storm: while businesses that were forced to make cuts last year scramble to restore and increase their previous numbers, huge numbers of those who stayed in work have chosen to quit, or are considering doing so.
Tackling this talent crunch means addressing three overlapping problems: getting people to consider a career in advertising, making them want to stay, and making it easy and desirable to come back after time away.
The first challenge means thinking openly and laterally about how and where to hire. Industry leaders almost universally accept the benefits of diversity extend beyond gender and ethnicity to social, educational, professional and geographic background. So, initiatives such as Havas UK’s creation of 100 entry-level roles through the government’s Kickstart scheme, UM’s schools programme Futureproof Academy, and New Commercial Arts’ partnership with the Glasgow School of Art are encouraging steps towards broadening the talent pool.
But as IPA president Julian Douglas outlines below, keeping people on board is just as important. As an ideas business that relies on a deep understanding of culture and society for its success, advertising should be better placed than any other industry to make itself an attractive place to work.
First and foremost, that means paying people properly, a point many of the responses to this Tweet make. But as D&AD’s Tim Lindsay argued in Campaign in May, this is an uphill struggle until agencies stand up to clients and demand the compensation that advertising’s huge and proven contribution to business success merits.
Next, employers must offer jobs that complement rather than dominate the lives of their staff. A well-thought-out hybrid working arrangement, essential post-Covid, is just the start; it also means being serious about ending the long-hours culture, and serious about fundamental changes such as a four-day working week.
Making people want to stay also means guaranteeing careers that offer as much challenge and opportunity for professional growth as possible. In a Campaign piece in April, Grey London’s Laura Jordan Bambach argued that bringing together tech and creativity more effectively would allow businesses to “create the magic that makes brands grow and us all love coming to work”. That’s something that needs to be present in all marketing and advertising careers, regardless of discipline.
So what else can adland do to tackle the crunch?
Julian Douglas, vice-chairman, VCCP and president, IPA
I believe the current talent crunch stems from the unique opportunity people have had over the past 18 months to take stock of what they want from a role and the industry they work in. Many efforts focus solely on identifying and attracting talent. However, there is a bigger job to do: looking after the talent we already have. Top talent have options. If we are to keep them in our agencies and our industry, we need to create a culture of belonging and progression. An industry where people can bring their authentic selves, where they feel valued and want to stay, but also where they can learn new skills.
This means we also need to properly invest in the development of our people, ensuring we are creating an agile workforce that develop the skills to thrive as the needs of the business change in the future, and show individuals that they have a place to grow. Advertising is a great industry to work in, where you can work with exceptionally talented people and create incredible work, but we need to accelerate the rate of change if we want to keep our talent.
Ally Owen, founder, AD-Cademy and Brixton Finishing School
Talent is distributed equally amongst all communities, but opportunities are not. Our country is packed full of people in communities underserved by employers who could benefit our industry and deliver much-needed diverse thinking and experiences. Sadly, these potential seeds of excellence have not been mined, as traditionally we’ve stuck to an unnecessarily rigid straitjacket of “essential characteristics” (for example, a degree from “top” university or must have “cultural fit” and be upper/middle class). The sooner the industry rids itself of the legacy of the straitjacket’s binds, the quicker the crisis will resolve.
“A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit.” – Greek Proverb
We used Covid as an opportunity to invest heavily in building an alternative “superhighway” for diverse talent to enter the industry: the AD-Cademy for 18-25s. The industry partners who have funded these initiatives are now reaping the benefits of the talent they have trained and produced. We’ve also launched Visible Start for women over 45. The good news is you don’t have to miss out on the benefits from investing now for a diverse, equitable future pipeline. It is not too late to engage with our resolution to the talent crisis – and plant that tree.
Rob Curran, co-founder, New Commercial Arts
We’ve not found there to be a real crunch in hiring for strategy and creative roles. But there’s no doubt that world class CX talent, that can produce the kind of work we aim for, is a finite resource. As the agency world broadens, and as we focus on entire brand experiences and not just ads, we need specialist talent. Our move to open our Glasgow studio was entirely talent-driven. There is incredible talent around the country, not just in London – the ad industry’s reflex hunting ground.
Also, in my experience, any talent crunch can largely be solved by really putting your trust in new, young entrants to the industry. There are far too many truly talented people that get filtered out by arbitrary and nonsensical “must have five years' industry experience” stipulations in job descriptions. “Inexperience” can be a gift, and we like to put our trust in talented people who can just do the job spectacularly.
Tammy Einav, CEO, Adam & Eve/DDB
Like many industries, advertising is facing a talent crunch. Yes, we need to do something about it, and some working practices need to be urgently addressed. But really what this brings up for me is a wider issue: we need to regain our sense of pride and purpose. We need to recognise and celebrate our industry’s huge contribution to, and value in, driving business, supporting the third sector and the economy.
We can be too quick to accept or defend the status quo in the industry. Instead, we should be looking to rewrite the narrative for advertising — just as we do for our clients. It's about selling ourselves better, and believing in ourselves in a way that makes a new, more diverse generation of talent feel excited about joining us.
When I left university, I went straight into advertising because it was a world that I really wanted to be a part of and help shape going forward. Twenty years on I’m still here because I love what I do and I am proud of the work we produce. I want the next generation to feel that same passion.
Hemi Patel, creative, Saatchi & Saatchi
I grew up in a large extended Indian family, as one of the only ones to pursue an advertising career. I probably have relatives who would be great talents within this industry, but they weren’t ever exposed to it or even knew it existed until I told them about it. Like many students, I had no clue either. It was only thanks to chance that my university lecturer was an ex-creative director, who recommended I give it a shot.
It’s a loss to the industry that so many students leave school with a lot of creative talent but are unable to showcase it. It shouldn’t be down to chance or knowing the right people. Exposing children/teens to the career opportunities available in advertising as early as possible is a vital step to tackling the talent crunch, as is breaking down practical barriers to them entering the industry and creating the right environment for people to learn, and progress.
The Saatchi team have been incredible – from Saatchi Ignite’s partnerships with schools teaching Year 7 to Year 13 about the industry as part of the curriculum, to Saatchi Open engineering new ways for talent to get access to jobs and Saatchi Home delivering on affordable accommodation – in addressing these barriers on a practical level and creating genuinely new ways to bring talent into the agency (and industry).
Victoria Livingstone, EMEA chief people officer, Dentsu International
I think to genuinely and sincerely understand what your talent demographic values and why they would join and stay with you, it is essential to have that group articulate and design the employee value proposition from the bottom up, especially in a highly creative industry like ours. For larger organisations with a diverse global workforce like dentsu, it is important to design a two-way employee value system so people continue to feel connected to the company purpose and culture. By engaging and collaborating with employees you can ensure that you are tailoring what is important to different groups, as personalisation is far more important today than it has been in the past.
Finally, in order to move the needle, some of the biggest drivers we know from employee feedback and research, are more qualitative elements that take longer and are more difficult to cultivate, such as being valued, a sense of belonging, a trusting and caring environment, as well as balanced workload and engaging role content design. It may seem the easier option to pivot to overt and quantitative elements such as compensation to keep or lure talent, but organisations that genuinely value talent and give them the freedom and flexibility to do their best work tend to be happier, healthier and more productive.